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Mon, Oct. 14

How to battle those pesky ants, flies and mosquitoes

Courtesy photo<br/>Some ants seem to find impossible ways into homes. Scout ants wander in search of food, then after finding it they take a direct route home and leave an odor trail for other ants to follow – a process called “trailing.”

Courtesy photo<br/>Some ants seem to find impossible ways into homes. Scout ants wander in search of food, then after finding it they take a direct route home and leave an odor trail for other ants to follow – a process called “trailing.”

Arizona is blessed with limited bug problems because of its dry climate, but flies, mosquitoes and ants can be problems here.

And the dry weather can draw insects into homes in search of food and water.

Mosquitoes and flies

Mosquitoes can be a special concern in Arizona because they carry the West Nile Virus. However, cases in Yavapai County are rare, especially at higher elevations such as Prescott.

Deet is among the most common and effective mosquito repellants. However, as much as 56 percent can be absorbed into the skin and 17 percent into the bloodstream, so experts recommend applying it on clothing. And it is not recommended at all for children younger than 2.

Avon Skin-So-Soft also can be an effective repellant, though not as much as Deet.

Some people prefer botanical compounds such as citronella oil, garlic, basil, neem, catnip, birch, bluestem grass, rosemary, spearmint, peppermint and cinnamon.

Health experts warn that just because they are "natural" doesn't mean they are safe for human use, however. Some plants such as hemlock and oleander are highly toxic.

Mosquito traps also can be part of a broader control strategy that includes measures such as source reduction (get rid of standing water) and repellants. But the traps aren't cheap, running from $50 to $1,300.

The traps use carbon dioxide, light, moisture, heat, sound and/or volatile compounds - all cues for mosquitoes that victims are nearby. For example, humans and animals produce carbon dioxide when they breathe.

Once they attract mosquitoes, the traps use fans to pull the insects into a net, sticky trap, catch basin or electric grid.

Consumer Reports found that some traps using carbon dioxide could catch 75 percent of mosquitoes. One researcher increased the capture rate with dirty socks.

Bacillus thuringiensis (commonly called Bt) is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that controls the larvae of mosquitoes as well as flies and gnats in gardens.

It has no effect on many beneficial insects and is relatively harmless to humans, pets and wildlife. It is available at garden centers.

Fly control

Flies also can be a health threat, since many types carry disease.

Good house screens, fly paper, electrocution light traps, food-based traps and pesticides are some common ways to keep flies out of the house.

But screens don't stop the tiny biting flies that many people call "no-see-ums," biting midges or punkies.

Like many other flies, they need moisture to lay their eggs.

Deet works on these midges, as well as botanical insect repellents.

Ant attacks

Some smaller ants such as "odorous house ants" seem to find impossible ways into homes. They usually have their nest right outside the home near a shrub or mulched area and then enter the house through a crack in a wall, window or foundation. They like to eat sweets, meats and dead insects.

Scout ants wander in search of food, then after finding it they take a direct route home and leave an odor trail for other ants to follow. This is called "trailing."

To stop these ants, follow the trail and try to stop it. Seal cracks, caulk seams and use other materials to limit their entry. Scrub trails with detergent to remove the scent trail. Some people might want to spray insecticide on the trail area or go after the nest.

Others might resort to toxic baits, but don't use them in conjunction with insecticide sprays or it will make it harder for the ants to take the toxin back to the colony.

Pheromone/scent traps are harmless to humans but relatively expensive.

Larger carpenter ants can be a serious problem in homes since they eat partially decayed wood and weaken structures. Look for leaks, openings or other damaged areas and seal/fix them.

The ants that create large bare spots outdoors often are harvester ants.

Experts urge people to leave these kind of ants alone unless they're causing a problem. They disperse seed, increase permeability of soils and feed other organisms.

The Extension Office is available to try to help residents identify various insects. Put them in a jar and bring it to the local office at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds, 840 Rodeo Drive. The office number is 445-6590.

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